The week after Jerry Flannery announced his retirement from the game, fellow Irish international Shane Horgan has decided to call an end to his career too. The 33-year-old has been struggling with a long-term knee injury in recent times and his time as a professional is now over. As with Flannery, we have to celebrate the sheer quality that Horgan contributed to both Leinster and Ireland during his 14-year long career. He was the complete winger at his peak and his long list of honours proves just how good a player he was.
A minor footballer with Meath, Horgan’s parish roots would later help him to dominate aerially on the rugby pitch. His earliest rugby experiences were with home club Boyne RFC and then Lansdowne RFC before Leinster gave him his first professional contract in 1998, at the age of 20. The imposing winger quickly set about making himself a vital part of the set-up and a try-scoring international debut followed in 2000. He went on to win 65 Irish caps, scoring 21 tries, some of which will never be forgotten.
Horgan was central as Leinster grew year by year to the levels they now play at. Whether on the wing or at inside centre, ‘Shaggy’ was reliably hard-working and physical but had genuine intelligence and delicate offloading skills too. His finishing ability was unquestionable. The aforementioned fielding skills also made him a try-scoring threat in any one-on-one aerial contest. Throughout his career, Ireland and Leinster consistently looked for Horgan (6’5″ and about 105kg) to get on the end of cross-field kicks, often to spectacular effect.
I was always a particular fan of Horgan’s stint at inside centre. At a time when players like Brian O’Driscoll were the standard shape and size for centres, Horgan was considerably different. His strength and offloading ability in the 12 jersey were something fresh for Ireland. Of Horgan’s three test caps off the bench for the 2005 Lions, two were in the centre, showing just how well the Meath man adapted to the position. Today, we see far more centres and wingers of Horgan’s dimensions. A really complete player, he was good wherever he was chosen.
So, to his long list of honours. Two Celtic/Magners Leagues as well as two Heineken Cups with Leinster were just reward for his service. He made a total of 207 appearances in the blue jersey, scoring a remarkable 71 tries. With Ireland, he played in two World Cups (’03 and ’07) as well as winning three Triple Crowns. A true measure of the man is that this time last season, he was playing superbly for Leinster and, at the age of 32, pushing hard for a spot in the 2011 World Cup squad.
Unfortunately injury has denied him the opportunity to make a farewell appearance this season. He has transitioned smoothly into the world of punditry with RTE, where his sensible and knowledgable contributions are in stark contrast with some of this peers. Shaggy has always come across as an intelligent character and that is backed up by what we’ve seen so far.
Horgan was a brilliant Irish winger who was maybe even a little bit ahead of his time in terms of playing style and build. Imagine the hype that would surround a player of his size and strength if he was emerging from the Leinster Academy now? Horgan says that he feels “fortunate to have played at a time when Leinster and Ireland experienced such great success”. The truth is that he played a major role in that success and in helping both teams to progress to where they are now.